By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre will play its first high school fast pitch softball game on Saturday at Sixth Avenue field, sort of.
While the team isn't officially sanctioned by the Montana High School Association, the Havre Softball Club will host Browning High School in the first game of its first official season.
Since fast pitch in Havre isn't a recognized MHSA sport, Havre is fielding a club team and playing a schedule against high school teams across the state of Montana in hopes of making fast pitch an MHSA sport in the 2005 school year.
Even though the game will hopefully mark the first of many in Havre, head coach Kim Staudinger is probably the only person on her team feeling any nerves.
"I'm nervous," Staudinger said. "But I think the girls are more ready than nervous. They're sick of practice and playing against each other. They really want to see how they stack up against high school teams around the state."
Havre got its first taste of intrasquad competition last season as several members of the team played in last year's state summer league tournament. But this competition will be a little different and a little tougher.
"That's the whole thing," Staudinger said. "Only Kristen Evanson has played fast pitch competitively before. The girls don't understand all the mechanics of learning how to pitch, how to hit and all the circumstances that are different from slow pitch."
With the lack of experience comes a lack of consistency - the Achilles' heel of Havre's team.
"Consistency is our biggest weakness," Staudinger said. "Our outfield is a little inconsistent. Most of our girls were infielders before, so we are trying to teach some people to play there."
But consistency can't just come from the outfield. It also has to be in all other phases of the game.
"We have two very good pitchers in Kristin and Whitney (Barnekoff)," Staudinger said. "But we need them to be consistent and throw strikes."
If inconsistency is Havre's biggest problem, the biggest cause is the lack of game experience. Because the team is a club team, there is no junior varsity squad to practice against, and scrimmaging of any sort is a huge task.
"I have to get out there and run along with my other coach (Chris O'Donnell)," Staudinger said. "We're at a disadvantage because we can't scrimmage and go through those game situations."
Last Friday, Havre scrimmaged a mixed group of men and women to prepare, and it was an eye-opening experience for both Staudinger and the team.
"A lot of our weaknesses were very apparent to everyone," Staudinger said.
Still, with everything working against Havre, all is far from lost.
"I think the girls have jelled really well in the month of practice," Staudinger said. "They really are a good group of girls."
Havre will have to be good on Saturday against an undermanned Browning team. Although the Indians have lost their first six games and are missing several key players, including their best pitcher, the six games are six more than Havre has played at this point.
"Browning has played three doubleheaders in about a week," Staudinger said. "They lost a couple of their better players because of outside circumstances, and a couple of their players, including their best pitcher, are ineligible."
Browning's missing players somewhat level the proverbial playing field. But don't think for a second that Staudinger or her players are looking past Browning.
"We can't look past anyone," Staudinger said. "I know the girls aren't looking past Browning, but they are very excited to play them, especially because they are home games. I really believe these are winnable games."
For Havre to win the two games, Evanson and Barnekoff must throw strikes and not allow runners to get on base by walks. Havre must also find some offense. Second baseman Brittany Callahan and first baseman Laura Zentmire are good hitters who can carry the offense, while Staudinger hopes some other players will step up.
"Brittany is a good hitter and Laura can really hit the ball," Staudinger said. "But we need some other girls to step up and get some hits."
Defensively, Havre has a solid infield with Zentmire, Callahan, Kelsey Evans at shortstop and either Barnekoff or Evanson at third depending on who's pitching.
The outfield is talented if not experienced. Sjanettee D'Hooge will play center and is one of the team's top athletes. Staudinger will try several different combinations in right and left field with McKayla Patterson, Katie McLeod, Whitney Schwan, Kaci Owens and Tara Borst all getting playing time in each position.
"We know who is going to start and where," Staudinger said. "We just don't know in what order they will hit."
Regardless, the biggest thing for Havre is actually getting on the field and playing.
Other players suiting up for Havre are Kim Collins, Kyla Kelsey, Casey Benner and Kentra Mader.
Staudinger is being assisted by Chris O'Donnell and Bob Evans Sr.
"I hate to lose and I want to go out there and win," Staudinger said. "The girls have had a good attitude. They understand that there aren't many expectations as far as being in the first year of ASA (Amateur Softball Association). But I hope they don't let that be enough."
Saturday's games start at 1 and 3 p.m. at Sixth Avenue Memorial Softball Field.